There are several key things worth watching as the Hawks go through training camp workouts and exhibition games before the 2016-17 regular-season opener against the Wizards on Oct. 27.
Here are the top five storylines as camp opens Monday:
1. Injury watch: Paul Millsap’s right knee will be something to watch. The three-time All-Star underwent a non-surgical, preventive procedure recently and will miss the first three weeks of training camp, including two exhibition games. The Hawks called the procedure precautionary after the issue popped up during five-on-five voluntary drills this month. All indications are that Millsap will be ready for the season opener. Still, it’s worth keeping a close eye on. The Hawks cannot afford to have their best player out or slowed from the start. In addition, Tiago Splitter (hip) and Jarrett Jack (torn ACL) are returning from surgeries that cut short their seasons. Splitter is very close to 100 percent and should be a full camp participant. Jack will be brought along slowly.
2. Competition: This will be the most competitive training camp as coach Mike Budenholzer heads into his fourth season with the team. By a lot. Barring a trade, someone who played in the NBA last season won’t make the final roster. The Hawks have 16 players under guaranteed for substantially guaranteed contracts. There are only 15 spots available. The math doesn’t work. In addition, the Hawks brought in two players as camp invitees with considerable NBA experience in Will Bynum and Ryan Kelly signing deals. They will push for a spot. “It just feels like it’s set up for a really competitive camp from top to bottom, everywhere you look,” Budenholzer said. Within the competition of roster spots, there will be plenty for regular-season playing time. Thabo Sefolosha, Kris Humphries, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mike Scott, Mike Muscala and Edy Tavares will push for spots in rotations.
3. Starting lineup: There will be at least two changes to the starting lineup with Dwight Howard replacing Al Horford and Dennis Schroder replacing Jeff Teague. Budenholzer indicated that he will go into camp with the rest of last year’s starters – Kyle Korver, Kent Bazemore and Millsap. However, Budenholzer wouldn’t commit beyond the start of camp, saying he wants to watch how certain players progress and work together during the preseason. In the right circumstances, he would like to see Bazemore play some shooting guard but that might not be at the start of games.
4. Rookies: The Hawks bring in three rookies with the signing of Malcolm Delaney and first-round draft picks Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry. Delaney, who played five years overseas, will figure to have an immediate impact. He will likely be the backup point guard at least while Jack returns to full health. He can also play shooting guard. Prince is said to have an NBA-ready body and brings a physicality. He could earn a spot in the deep wing rotation. Bembry will be a factor during camp as well.
5. New man in the middle: The Hawks have a traditional center in Howard. It’s quite a departure from the stretch-5 in Horford. It will mean the offense and defense will be different with a new skill set. Schroder will have to work differently in the pick-and-roll game. There is the hope for a long-absent post presence and rebounding. There could be more open shots from the wings. Budenholzer doesn’t expect much to change in the system but there will be adjustments both players. “A lot of people focus on a specific thing, but I think the physicality and the force, you have a player who is going to cover up some of the things, whether it’s rebounding or getting hits or screens and those type of things, it comes naturally to him,” Budenholzer said. “It will feel really different for us and our team.”